My Grown-Up Life

How could it be that I have a husband, a kid, a house and a dog and still have a balance on my student loan?

A couple of years ago my husband unearthed my diploma and as a surprise had it framed. It now sits in its frame in the closet, much as it did before he plucked it out of a moving box. When he asked why I hadn’t tacked it to my office wall, I shrugged. Honestly, for the longest time I’ve thought of that piece of paper as a fancy receipt more than a document to symbolize an accomplishment.

This might be because I had to pay for my college education myself through loans and working a series of jobs that, in their own way, prepared me for the working world more than my courses ever did. I learned how to deal with office politics, wrangle for a promotion and how to selectively ignore my bosses yet appear like I was going to go along with what they were asking me to do.

The office politics training was especially useful. At one point I landed a job in the college public relations department. The second-in-command person took a dislike to me, culminating in her telling the office manager (a harried, but kind woman) to tell me I wasn’t allowed to talk—at all. I spent the first day giving people pleading looks as they came over to my desk to talk to me, finally telling them “Janet [1] says I’m not allowed to talk.” They shuffled away with parting sympathetic looks and after a few days of relative silence I did what any respectable student worker would do—I landed myself a better paying campus job.

The next morning I called in reaching Merrick [2] and told her simply—“I quit.” [3] I started my new job that same day, as a student office manager for an outreach program aimed at high school students. Now this turned out to be the cushiest of cushy campus jobs. I worked in a two person office and was in charge of ordering supplies for a team of many more people than we ever gave access to the supply closet. [4] Officially we mentored students at Mission High, a large urban high school with predominantly black, Latino and Asian students who couldn’t ever hope to get into Lowell. [5] To do this we had a team of earnest college student mentors earning between $6-7 an hour to show them the glory of graduating and aspiring to higher education even if it was at a public college that didn't rely too heavily on sterling SAT scores. They followed some loose guidelines, implemented their own projects and submitted their time sheets to me every other Friday.

Pretty soon we figured out if they were filling out their time sheets they way we, management, were, there was a whole lot of padding going on. I for one, and I admit this freely, would pay myself the maximum of 20 hours a week while only spending about 5 of that on actual project work. The rest was spent doing my homework, going to the gym, coming in late, leaving early... [6]

Looking back now, I think this might have been the longest I ever kept one job--almost a whole year. Why would I leave it? I could come and go as I pleased and whenever our corrupt director came in, I, along with the two other guys who made up our base office, felt free to contradict him and openly defy him. [7] He, like most bosses, was out of touch, largely absent and full of shit. So when he did come around, we’d nod our heads, pretend to take notes, snag an extra bagel for later and wait for him to leave.

That summer we, the student workers in charge, decided everyone deserved a raise. It was great. It was also the last time I ever enjoyed such power in the work place. I ended up earning more an hour for the remainder of my time there then I did at my first official post-college job as an intern for a consumer technology magazine at Ziff Davis. [8]

Which brings me to my final point—my student loan and why refuses to die. I could blame it on a variety of reasons, but it comes down to the fact that I haven’t paid it off. When I was flush with cash during the dot.com boom and could see my way to buying a $200 jar of Crème de la Mer and taking a Hawaiian vacation every six month, it never occurred to me to put that money toward my loan. So now all these years later, I am my own boss [9] and my loan is hanging on at around $3K.

I could pay it off, putting a modest dent into my book advance. But I don’t want to. I feel almost bitter about having to tuck into that money to wipe it away. But it needs to go and maybe my dreams of not finishing college will go away with it. So I resolve to pay it off before the year is out.

But don’t expect to see my diploma on my office wall any time soon. It’ll take me a lot longer to get over that resentment.

[1] Janet is her real name as I see no reason to protect the bitch (a characterization I don’t use lightly) from her own bitchery. By the way, I went to San Francisco State University and as of a few years ago Janet still worked there finally making director, I believe. If she didn’t it was due to her personality, I’m sure. And if she did its no surprise as she was a state employee and state law mandates that everyone get a shot at the top job in their field before they retire.

[2] Merrick had also happened to be the editor-in-chief of Prism Magazine my first semester on staff. She was very competent and fair and, in my eyes, extremely mature. Janet never had a reason to have the office manager to tell her to shut the fuck up. I believe she also went on to be hired as an official pensioned employee of the department under that bitch Janet sometime after she graduated.

[3] After checking the current employee roster at the SFSU public relations department I think its safe to add that Merrick told me she was really proud of me for quitting and Janet’s treatment of me had been unfair.

[4] It was great. I’d sit at my desk, earning $8/hr pouring over the Office Depot catalog comparing the merits of one ball point pen over another. In fact, I still have yellow legal pads I liberated after the program was shut down.

[5] Lowell being the shining star in the dim San Francisco school district galaxy.

[6] Also taking advantage of the office Internet connection. Once I froze the Mac on a porn site and freaked out. It was fully frozen when one the student on-site supervisor of our little project came in. He merely gave me a funny look and unplugged the thing, plugged it back in and went on like nothing happened. He was a nice guy. Really dedicated to what he was doing. So dedicated, he was in danger of either not graduating or defaulting on his master thesis because he spent so much time trying to motivate the students as Mission.

[7] Things got a little sticky when the college started to look more closely into his activities and words like “fraud” and “termination of employment” were bandied about. Not that the guy didn’t deserve to be audited and fired, but it would mean I’d be out of a job and would have to rustle up a real one.

[8] I believe I topped out at around $9.75, the two boys above that since one was getting his masters and the other was an adjunct professor as well as a masters student.

[9] As my own boss I'm largely out of touch, absent and full of shit. Oh, I’m also a bitch.

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