Mr. Rogers Neighborhood

Having been sold the idea that after college graduation companies would be waiting with open arms to greet me, it was a huge slap in the face to have to scrape and claw for even the most menial office jobs.
Photo: Felix Lichtenfeld

I moved to San Francisco a few months ago. I have always liked this city and waited through 4 years of college to finally call this place home. Now I’m finally here, degree in hand, ready to become a valued member of the capitalist pigs that reside here. Yet, while I am fully willing to join the Dark Side, I can’t help but feel a ping of guilt when I see all the misery around me.

The disparity between the classes is no more apparent than on these city streets. Yuppies engage in bourgeois rituals in swank night clubs with gold digging part plastic/part human girlfriends while homeless people beg for change and prostitutes sell their souls on the streets outside. Cracked out phantoms lurk in the shadows muttering to themselves, too fucked up to even bum change from the BMW’s that speed by.

Still among this misery there is humor. Crusty punks, dog in tow, gather on the corners pleading for your dimes and nickels. Apparently mommy forgot to give them their lunch money today. Yet for every time I laugh at these quasi-bum suburban crusty punks paying $6 to go to a show or buying spikes for their $150 leather, a whacked-out psycho approaches me at a bus stop to tell me his life story, or a man starts touching me on the subway asking me where I live.

And even for those of us that are “blessed” i.e. college educated white kids, life is not easy. For two months I walked up and down these puke filled streets selling my soul to temp agencies that didn’t give a shit about me. My socks would be stained with blood from the dress shoes rubbing against my skin. My mouth would be parched from answering the same questions over and over again. Sweat would run down my face because I was wearing a monkey suit in the blazing summer sun.

My fingers and eyes would ache from hours and hours of testing to prove how good of a robot I was. I have never in my life felt like such a commodity. I was quantified and categorized; my abilities summed up nice and neat on a sheet so potential employers could, at a glance, decide my destiny. It was so succinct, so economical. “Hey, we’ll try you out and fire you if we don’t like you. No hard feelings. IT’S BUSINESS.”

I would be sent on interviews to pits of right wing fascists, answering questions like “What makes you better than a person with the same qualifications as you?” “What are your three best abilities?” “Where will you be in 5 years?” I could see the flash in their eyes as I would say the wrong answer, instantly destroying any chance of getting a job.

I think they could tell I was an unwilling participant in their game. I think they could see how awkward I looked in a suit and just waited for the next guy, who has sold out long before me and had the game wired. Yet there we would sit and continue, my ego shrinking every minute longer it lasted. I’ll tell you, I was almost broken. I was almost broke too. Money was tight and I had exhausted almost every option. I contemplated becoming like all the bums around me or moving back to my home town but I couldn’t let “The Man™” break me.

I played their game, I did what they said: Navy blue suit, big smile, firm handshake. I went to college, I joined clubs, and I got good grades. Yet here I was being rebuffed at every corner. Imagine my torment. Like Jawbreaker, I sold out yet hadn’t reaped any of the rewards. I would ride the bus home after a full day of interviewing, test taking, and resume faxing, only to feel the huge weight of unemployment on my shoulders. I have never been so close to giving up on anything in my life. I have never been so close to being totally broken, mentally and physically. I lost weight and sprouted two gray hairs from the constant anxiety over my future.

Even now, employed and only mildly in debt, I look back on those times and shudder. It was the darkest period of my life. I really thought I wasn’t going to make it. I still wrestle with the internal demons of self-doubt, which was a rare occurrence in my previously stable life. I have sold out. I am not doing what I want. I am trading my time for money. I do not enjoy my job but what can I do? The things I do enjoy won’t make me money (like this zine) so it seems like I have no choice. Fuck, it’s hard.

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